Heinz Beck, Apsleys, The Lanesborough, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th January 2013

In Association with

Electrolux There are now five restaurants in Italy, Portugal and the UK, “but my name is only on two doors,” he reminds us. Louise Thomas meets three Michelin starred chef, Heinz Beck, on a not-so-rare visit to London in Apsleys, a Heinz Beck Restaurant at The Lanesborough. Heinz Beck is the chef behind Apsleys, a restaurant at The Lanesborough Hotel in London. He is one of Europe’s most respected three star Michelin chefs, having worked with a wide range of award-winning kitchens and chefs throughout his career, but he is perhaps best known for his work at La Pergola in Rome. Heinz born in Germany in 1963 and gained his formal chef qualifications in 1983 from the Professional School in Passau. In 1986 he took a job in Munich with the Michelin starred catering company Feinkost Kaefer before becoming Chef de Partie at the Michelin-starred Colombi Hotel in Freiburg. He returned to Munich in 1989 to join the three Michelin starred Tantris, before becoming Sous Chef at Tristan, a two Michelin starred restaurant in Mallorca, Spain. In 1991 he worked with Heinz Winkler as a Sous Chef at his restaurant Residenz in Aschau and gained his kuchenmeister, a prestigious German culinary qualification. In 1994 he started work at La Pergola. Over ten years he became Executive Chef and the restaurant eventually won three stars. He opened Apsleys in 2009 and it gained its first Michelin star in 2010.   What inspired you to become a chef? My father didn’t allow me to go to art school ­– where I wanted to train to become a painter – so I chose cooking. He felt that painting could only be a hobby, not a job, and he wanted me to study something serious. I decided to become a chef. I don’t know if my father’s happy with this or not – he won’t tell me. But I’m happy. Whilst training, you completed an apprenticeship alongside training at a catering college. Do you feel this is the best way for people to learn and what advice would you give for future chefs? What is more important: to study the French names of the dishes or to know how to cook the dishes? It’s important in the schools to remember what they have to produce through the process: a Chef. At first, he has to learn how to cook and how to survive service. Then, he has to study health, hygiene, tradition, the names and the words – but all this he can study at the weekend or in the afternoon between services, if you are serious about what you want to do. I feel a mix between culinary school, a serious culinary school, and an apprenticeship in a good restaurant is the best way to learn. Otherwise, you can learn a lot of things that aren’t important for your work and you won’t learn how to cook. You’ve wasted maybe five years of your time, learning things you will never use or need to know in your life. After five years, people are coming out of school believing they are chefs, but they don’t know how to cook. They can cook one or two dishes and if you give them the time they can do it. But this isn’t restaurant cooking. You have to be able to cook a lot of dishes in a short amount of time. Yes, they can cook a perfect dish, but they can’t make it industrial – even a restaurant with twenty seats is industrial. It’s not fun, or a hobby. It’s work. You’ve worked in Michelin-starred kitchens throughout your career. Why did you make the decision to go down the Michelin route? This was a coincidence. I began my training doing traditional cooking and the chef I was working under organised a new job for me; he felt I had learnt all I could in his kitchen. My chefs were always taking care that I found the next job and I’ve progressed like this – I’ve never written a CV. There were always other people around me who were carrying me forward. The same in Rome with La Pergola: the hotel contacted me, insistently, and invited me to come for a weekend. Two weeks later, I began working there. I’m a lucky person – these opportunities have always been given to me. You worked under Heinz Winkler in the early 90’s. As an Italian-German chef, do you feel he’s influenced your cooking? Do you still feel Germany still has an influence on your food Germany is where I am from, but it’s not home. I’ve lived in Rome for 18 years, so no. I do very light, healthy, Mediterranean cooking. I don't cook German sausages! But I do still have a German discipline in the kitchen. I cook Mediterranean flavours, not Italian. Italy is a very large country and the cooking is so different from the north to the south. You can choose a region, Tuscany or Sicily, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed by a particular region and I won’t offend anyone this way. Heinz [Winkler] and I are still in touch; he came in February for five days to London to see what we are doing at Apsleys. I have him on the phone at least twice a month – this is a lot for me. I don’t speak to anyone, apart from my wife, this much. He still has a big presence in my life. I wouldn’t say Heinz helped me find the balance between German and Italian cooking. I found that when I came to Italy. Heinz is from Northern Italy, which is different to the cooking in the south of Italy. I found the balance through my wife – who is from Palermo, at the very south – and through my studies. You are a trained sommelier; how important is understanding the front of house, as well as what is going on in the kitchen? For me it is very important. At the time, I didn't have a sommelier and I wanted a good wine list, so I had to learn. It was not that I woke up one morning and thought ‘I love wine, let’s do a sommelier’s course’. It was a need. I went to sommelier school, I did all the degrees, and I started to make my own wine list. I drank a lot of wine – only by drinking them will you understand them. Once I got the knowledge, I stopped drinking. Now, I drink a glass of wine from time to time, but I don’t drink massively. When I was training to become a sommelier, I was training to become a professional and understand all I could about wine. You can only understand wine if you drink it. You can read as much as you want, but you won’t understand it until you taste it. Why did you choose London and The Lanesborough as the first place to showcase your cooking outside of Italy? The Lanesborough and I have a lot in common: what people need, what customers want, service expectations and the attention to detail. It’s a perfect combination for both parties; for us to be able to produce high quality food, The Lanesborough produces a high quality experience for the people who work here, the business customers, the tourists and guests. When I was speaking to the management I felt comfortable with their ethos of service. I’m very happy and I feel I’ve made the right choice. Over the years I’ve had a few offers, but I’ve always been waiting for the right place and I feel The Lanesborough is it. You now have restaurants all over Europe and travel across the world with your consultancy business. How does this affect your influences, your cooking and your ingredients? Now everything has changed; our market is becoming more and more global, so you can get everything, all year round. It’s up to you to decide which products work well with your philosophy and how you can integrate these ingredients into your cooking. Today it’s not necessary to travel a lot to become more creative or to learn to use new products. It’s all about you; how open you are. I have always believed that everyone has to find their own way. The worst way is to copy others. I very rarely go to eat at other chef’s restaurants; it’s not because I don’t want to eat, I just don’t have the time – and I don’t look to journalists for their opinions. Instead, I visit the local markets and see what’s available. When I can I prefer to buy locally, but often I can’t get the quality, so I may have to ship it in. I know it’s not environmentally friendly, and I’m sad about this, but I have to put taste and quality first. I’m environmentally responsible when I can be; I wouldn’t buy a German cabbage if I can get a good English cabbage. My preference is first for local produce; only where it’s not possible I will use imported produce. Are you watching any British chefs at the moment? How do you feel the British fine dining scene compares to that on the continent? Do you think it would be nice telling you one name, not having eaten in every restaurant in the UK? So I can only tell you of what I think, what I read or where I have eaten. You have to taste it, taste the cooking. You can go to fifteen or twenty restaurants and then make a decision, maybe. In the UK, I’ve only eaten at Marcus Wareing, The Fat Duck, The Ledbury and Robuchon – four restaurants. This doesn’t represent the best that this country has to offer, it doesn’t represent what the country has to offer. And I’m not a critic.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th January 2013

Heinz Beck, Apsleys, The Lanesborough, London